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Middle East Peace Process

11 am

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): Mr. Deputy Chairman—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook): Order. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not remind the House for the second time this morning that, when the decision to establish a second Chamber was taken, it was determined that the four senior Chairmen of the Chairmen's Panel would be addressed as Deputy Speaker in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Maples : I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I came to the debate ready to address you as Mr. Chairman, and I checked with my neighbour, who said, "No, you should call him Mr. Deputy Speaker." I am afraid that somehow the words "Deputy Chairman" slipped out.

I shall start by making a couple of fairly uncontroversial statements. The first is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute complicates a range of other issues. A great many ethnic and border conflicts are raging in the world, but none has external consequences on quite the same scale as those arising from the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The conflict complicates the war on terror enormously, because the terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists use it as an excuse—although I think that it is a pretty pathetic one—and keep pointing to what is happening on the west bank. The conflict also complicates American and British efforts to stabilise the Gulf and deal with Iraq and, more generally, complicates our dealings with the Arab and Islamic world. The consequences of the dispute are out of all proportion to the consequences on the ground for the parties to that dispute.

Secondly, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Sharon are unlikely ever to make a deal. Arafat was not prepared to accept what he was offered by Barak at Taba, and it is highly unlikely that Sharon will make that offer again. As he will make a lesser offer, it is unlikely that the Palestinians will accept it.

The resolution of the dispute is too important to the rest of the world to be left to the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to resolve. The United States has realised that. President Bush came to power thinking that he would not have to bother too much about the middle east, but he has discovered pretty rudely that foreign policy has a way of insinuating itself into a political leader's life, no matter how much he might not want it to. I think that he was warned by President Clinton not to pay too much attention to the middle east because of what had happened at Camp David and at Taba. However, President Bush has found that the matter is top of his agenda as a result of the war on terror and his desire to do something about Iraq.

In January last year at Taba, the parties to the dispute very nearly resolved it. They spent a couple of days talking, having had extensive negotiations the previous September at Camp David. President Clinton had then put forward some new proposals, and those were discussed at length in Taba. I quote from the joint statement issued after those talks:

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Unfortunately, time ran out. Barak lost the election and Clinton left the White House. Arafat did not at the time seem prepared to make the deal, although my understanding from those who were there is that his negotiators would have had a positive—let us put it that way—attitude to the deal that was offered by the Israelis. We know quite a lot about what happened at that meeting, both from reports in the press and from Ambassador Moratinos and the European Union's report on what happened.

The Palestinians should have accepted what was on offer at Taba. I think that it was another Palestinian leader who said that the deal gave them 98 per cent. of what they wanted. If anyone gets 98 per cent. of what they want in negotiations, they are doing pretty well. I do not know which it is, but either Arafat could not or would not make that deal. He is not likely to be offered a better one.

Prime Minister Sharon looks set to win the Israeli elections, although in the Likud parliamentary list elections yesterday, the more extreme and right-wing candidates who back Netanyahu seemed to do rather better than Sharon's. It is unlikely that such an offer will be made to Arafat again. All of us who think about the issue, and who are not completely partisan, know that the Taba deal is the one that is going to be done. The Taba deal was very nearly done and it will, one day, be the one that resolves the dispute.

Let us go through the elements that have constantly been at the heart of the negotiations and what was on offer at Taba. The first issue is territory. At Taba, all of Gaza, 95 per cent. of the west bank and, as I understand it, a 3 to 5 per cent. land swap was offered. Whether the amount was 3 or 5 per cent. may become a big issue, but I cannot believe that a deal would stand or fall on that. Secondly, there is the solution of the refugee problem. The choices offered at Taba were that refugees could stay in the new Palestinian state, move to the area that would be given to the Palestinian state in the land swap, and some could return to Israel on a limited annual basis or go to a third country. Various countries had offered to take people and that seemed to be acceptable.

The third big issue was Jerusalem. At Taba, the offer was that Jerusalem should remain an open city that would be the capital of both the Israeli and Palestinian states. East Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state and the rest of Jerusalem would stay as the capital of Israel. Also on offer was a regime for the administration of religious sites. The Palestinian state would have jurisdiction over the top of Temple Mount, which is the location of the two mosques that are important to it, and the Israelis would have jurisdiction over the Wailing wall below. I am sure that some complicated legal fine print enabled that deal to be put to bed. Nevertheless, the principles, and more than just the principles, were put in place.

It was agreed that an international commission should handle the question of compensation. There are complications regarding that matter, but, once again, I cannot believe that, if a deal was on the table for everything except compensation, some way could not be found to resolve the matter. Of course, the compensation issue is not just a one-way street. The Israelis would say, "What about the Jews who were expelled from Arab states?" The fundamental issue is security, to which I shall return.

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Most Palestinians want a deal; they want a state and they want to be able to get on with their lives. They feel frustrated that the Oslo process has not led them to that. My information is that the Palestinian negotiators at Taba were prepared to accept the deal. I hear from my Israeli friends, and from my friends in London who keep closely in touch with what is happening in Israel, that most Israelis would do anything for peace. Most Israelis would make almost any deal if the suicide bombings stopped and if they could get on with their lives and have some kind of normal relationship with their neighbours. Such people may vote for Sharon in the forthcoming elections, but really they support the Israeli Labour party's position on the negotiations. Barak had a lot going for him in the negotiations, but it was felt that he delivered nothing in the way of peace and security. People feel that Sharon has a better chance of delivering security.

We are in a cycle of violence. I will not take sides in the dispute, but shall propose a new way of approaching a solution. The cycle of violence is unlikely to be halted. In fact, it seems that the more that one side escalates the situation, the further the other side escalates it.

Two other pieces of the jigsaw fell into place at the beginning of the year. First, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that, in return for peace, an Israeli withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state, the Arab world should recognise the state of Israel and normalise relations with it. The Arab League summit, held in March in Beirut, declared that in exchange for the refugees being dealt with and the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from what would become the Palestinian state, Israel would get a peace agreement and normal relations with the Arab world. That is something worth going the extra mile for.

I return to the point that this dispute is too important to be left to the parties to resolve: the rest of us have too much of a stake to leave it to Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat, when no one believes that they are likely to reach a deal. The United Nations Security Council should pass a chapter VII mandatory resolution. Having determined a threat to peace in the region, which is undeniable, the Security Council can take decisions, which then effectively become international law. It should set out what was nearly agreed at Taba, plus or minus a few adjustments, in a resolution stating that that is the settlement. It would then be international law that the Palestinian state exists, that its capital is based in such a place, that Jerusalem is based on that regime, and that the choices available to refugees and the compensation arrangements are as defined.

All that would need widespread support, which might well be forthcoming. First, the permanent five members of the Security Council—certainly we, the French, the Americans and the Russians, comprising the Quartet group would support it; and although China has never shown a huge interest, it would be unlikely to frustrate it—would support the resolution. In those circumstances, sufficient numbers of the other members of the Security Council could probably be carried. The two key non-Security Council members are Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Prince Abdullah declared his support and signed up to the Beirut declaration, as did Egypt, which has had diplomatic—or, at least, working—relationships with Israel. It would be good if we could

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bring the rest of the Arab and Islamic world on side, but irrespective of whether that proves possible, the resolution would create the Palestinian state. A buffer might be necessary in the form of a referendum in each territory—in Israel and in what would become the Palestinian state—to test the democratic legitimacy of the proposal. The resolution would set out the detailed terms of the creation of the Palestinian state.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's argument, particularly his reference to China's lack of interest in the region. Purely on a point of information, I heard recently from China's permanent representative in the United Nations that the country has sent to the region an envoy, who is now actively engaged in examining how China could support an eventual settlement. Perhaps China has a greater interest than the hon. Gentleman suspects.

Mr. Maples : That is an interesting point, which I did not know. Whatever China does, it would be unlikely to frustrate a settlement that everyone else was in favour of. Where its direct interests are not at stake, a country tends not to frustrate the actions of the Security Council. Framing the resolution and putting it in place will require considerable arm twisting. However, if the United States can twist the Israelis' arms and the Saudis and Egyptians can twist the Palestinians', we might well get a settlement.

That leaves the security issues, which are at the heart of the Israelis' concerns. Some of the discussions at Taba were about an international stabilisation force. Although it can patrol a border, such a force cannot stop suicide bombers. The Israelis need some assurance on suicide bombings, but it will be difficult to stop every extremist group that wants to frustrate the process. In these circumstances, the groups associated with Fatah might well stop; whether Hamas and Hezbollah would follow suit might depend on the attitude of their sponsors. The United Nations might need to invoke sanctions, which it can under chapter VII and articles 40 and 41, against states that continued to sponsor terrorism in Israel.

My suggested plan would not stop terrorism immediately, but it would put the settlement in place so that the details of negotiations—about the boundaries of the Palestinian state, the options available to refugees, the status of Jerusalem and so forth—would be settled and could no longer be used as alibis by the Israeli or Palestinian authorities to justify why they could not reach a settlement. The choice would simply be whether to implement or fight the settlement.

A UN Security Council resolution, supported by the permanent five members and the most influential people in the Arab world, and with all the diplomatic force that can be mustered from Britain, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt behind it, could offer a chance. I see no other route to a peaceful settlement in the middle east.

At the end of last week—before the debate—I informed the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of exactly what I intended to propose, in the hope that they

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would respond specifically to that, rather than dwelling on the multitude of aspects to the problem. I look forward to hearing a response from the Minister and from my own side.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind hon. Members that it is customary in these 90-minute debates to commence the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the conclusion. That leaves us only 45 minutes, and five hon. Members seek to catch my eye, so I exhort hon. Members to make their contributions concise and pertinent, and to resist interventions if possible.

11.16 am

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): When I arrived here this morning, I was not quite sure what we would discuss, and I am quite amazed at what I have heard. It is not often that I am amazed on this issue, but I am not sure where the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has been hiding his bushel. I listened to him when he was on the Opposition Front Bench in the main Chamber. I am also aware of what he has said in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which he is a member. This is one of those times when I wish that the Minister would speak next, so that we could hear what the Government think and then have a debate.

The idea that the Taba proposal should be the basis for a chapter VII UN Security Council resolution is imaginative, to say the least. However, there are major drawbacks with the proposal; it was not quite as simple as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon suggested. He quoted from the final declaration, but I believe that the officials at Taba felt that a number of mistakes were made there by all concerned, not just by one side or the other. However, in the interests of not creating a division, I shall not attack what the hon. Gentleman said or disagree with it in any way, because I want to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about the proposal.

I think that most hon. Members arrived here this morning hoping to use these 90 minutes, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask the Government questions that we will not be able to ask this afternoon, although there will be Foreign Affairs questions then and we have not really had a debate on the middle east for a long time. I accept that we are all concerned and determined to try to see peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We all know that the only way to achieve that is to get both parties round the table, and that the people who can achieve that are the Americans. Most of us have some idea of what the Americans should do.

We also need to send a simple message from this Chamber to the Israeli people: if they re-elect Prime Minister Sharon when the Israeli elections are held and on the platform on which he is likely to stand, most of us taking part in this debate will see no future in the short term for peace in the middle east. The real issue for someone like me, who has been involved with the issue for more than 30 years, is Sharon.

A recent series outlined the way in which the state of Israel came into being and showed the fight put up by various factions in the emerging state. Sharon comes

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through all the time as having a clear sense of what is required as far as Israel is concerned, but it is virtually a case of to hell with everyone else. It does not matter who he stands on or who he is prepared to push out of the road. To Sharon, the one important thing was Israel. It did not matter who he was pushing out or knocking out or whom he was prepared to move—Israel had to be established. One can well understand that, given the experiences in various parts of the world—including, it has to be said, the middle east—of those who came together to form Israel.

When it created the state of Israel, the General Assembly said that there should be two states, one mainly Jewish which became Israel, and another an Arab state. We can rake over the coals about whom is to blame following that General Assembly resolution, but the fact is that the Arab state has never been allowed to come into existence, mainly because of people like Sharon.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): With great respect, the reason why the two states did not come into existence after the original UN resolution surely was that the Arab armies invaded that section that was allocated to Israel. Although one can accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures against Sharon as being clumsy and often brutal, is not it also a fact that the al-Aqsa martyrs' brigade, which is responsible for suicide bombings, is directly linked to Yasser Arafat's PLO? It is a little more two-sided than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Ross : That is the problem. I am trying to stick to the way in which the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon started the debate. Already, the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) seeks to divide the Chamber and have us squabbling in the middle. I am trying not to do that. We will certainly squabble if the hon. Gentleman continues along those lines.

Sharon is a specific individual; when General Sharon was commander of the Israeli defence forces, the US Secretary of State, George Shultz, negotiated a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinians, who were then in the Lebanon. For six months not one Katushya rocket went across into the northern part of Israel, yet in June 1982 under General Sharon, the Israeli defence forces invaded Lebanon. That individual's history is of a man with a single vision; he has not shown, either as Prime Minister or as a general, that he has the facility to understand that if he is to live in peace in the area he has to live with a neighbour who, whether he likes it or not, is a Palestinian Arab. Therefore, rather than knock them about and defeat them on the battlefield, he needs to sit round a table, recognise them as an equal partner in negotiations and start negotiating. If he did so, there is the possibility that the Palestinians would respond.

I remind hon. Members of Sharon's history: when he was not Prime Minister but the leader of Likud, he walked on to Temple Mount, deliberately and provocatively, and brought into being a series of events that made it impossible for what was proposed at Taba to be agreed. From there, the situation has escalated into further violence. No one in the Chamber would go along with anyone losing their life; I am just as concerned about those people who are being killed now,

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whether it is a 95-year-old woman in a car or taxi waiting at a crossing point, or Iain Hook, who it now appears was deliberately targeted and killed by a member of the Israeli defence forces. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will tell us how the investigation is going and what representations he has made.

One message that we need to send to the Israeli people is that Prime Minister Rabin gave his life; he understood that he had to sit with the Palestinians. He said that if the Israelis were to live in peace with their neighbours they needed to recognise that their neighbours needed space too. Prime Minister Rabin's land-for-peace proposals were the most imaginative of any Israeli leader for many years. I hope that in the forthcoming elections someone of similar stature will arise among the Israeli politicians to ensure that it is not simply a case of security, security, security. There will be no security if there is no peace. Peace can come about only when the Israelis and the Palestinians sit down together.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): The hon. Gentleman has told us what the message would be to the Israelis. What would the message be to the Palestine Liberation Organisation?

Mr. Ross : The message would be exactly the same, although not to the PLO but to the Palestinians. The PLO is much bigger than those who assemble on the West Bank and Gaza at the moment. It includes all the refugees throughout the world. The Palestinians need to sit down with their Israeli brothers to negotiate peace. It needs to be based on land for peace. There needs to be a recognition of the two states, which has been the case for some time. It must be recognised that there is no military resolution to the conflict. The conflict must be resolved across the table between two parties and on the basis that both Israelis and Palestinians, including the Palestinian diaspora, have rights. If those rights are recognised and put on the table, there is a chance that peace will result. I am sorry that my speech has seemed rather rambling, but I am still trying to react to the proposal of the hon. Member for Stratford–on-Avon. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

11.26 am

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): I shall start by declaring an interest, as I am chairman of Labour Friends of Israel. I have just returned from Israel, and it was clear from that visit that both the Palestinians and the Israelis need peace. Palestinian income has dropped to less than $1,000 a year. Malnutrition is appearing. Palestinian civilians have been caught up in the crossfire of a dirty war. On the other side, 700 Israelis have been killed in less than two years. It is important to put that number into context. That is in a country of 6.5 million people. It is the equivalent of 7,000 people in this country being killed in acts of terrorism. How would we react to that death toll? What would be the pressures on the Government? The Israelis know perhaps more than any other nation what it is like to be on the front line of the war against terrorism; they know that there are no limits to the atrocities that the terrorists will commit to try to spread fear among the democratic people.

Many people feel uncomfortable with the reaction of the Israelis, particularly the Israel defence forces, to those terrorist attacks. I can understand why people feel

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that way, but we must recognise that Israel as a democratic nation has a right to defend itself. The only reality in today's politics in Israel is a contest over who can get the death toll down. Even getting the death toll down to 20 people per month from 60, as it was a few months ago, is seen as a victory. That dominates Israel's politics and it dominated my conversations with pretty much everyone I met, including Shimon Peres, Barak and people from Sharon's office and the military.

I am glad that both the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) phrased their remarks in the context of peace and what can bring us together. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should emphasise what unites the two sides in this conflict, rather than try to find ways to divide them. That is the key message that should go out from today's debate. These debates are scrutinised carefully outside the House: they are scrutinised as closely as any that we have. We need to put out the message that there is no monopoly on suffering in this fight. Both sides are suffering a terrible burden, and there can be no military solution to the conflict.

That is certainly what the members of the kibbutz that we visited believe. Kibbutz Metzer is very left wing, and when one sits in its canteen, one can see the minaret of the local Arab village, which is barely a few hundred yards away. The kibbutz has a shared kindergarten with its Arab neighbours, a shared football team and it shares its land and farming resources with the village. However, last month a young Arab terrorist, who was not from the village although he was fairly local, walked into the kibbutz and killed five people, including two children who were shot through the back of their mother as she was trying to shield them. We asked our hosts about the reaction, and we were told that a meeting had been held and that nothing had changed in their heads. They still believed in giving up some of their precious land for peace and in sharing their resources with the local Arab village. Indeed, a flood of people came from the village to express their condolences. However, our hosts said that something in their hearts had cracked and that their faith in the peace process had been shaken.

That is true throughout Israel. People are very clear that there must be a change to what the Palestinians are doing—they must try to reduce terror. As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, the condition is not that terrorism must cease, because that would provide the most extreme people in the conflict with a veto that would derail the peace process at any stage. However, there must be a belief that there is a genuine attempt by the Palestinian Authority to control and reduce terrorism. Until that happens, I do not believe that any progress will be made.

That was the very depressing conclusion that I took from my trip. The silver lining is that there is broad agreement on the outcome. If we can get people walking down the road that is set out in the "Roadmap", the destination is relatively clear, apart from 5 or 10 per cent. around the edges. The deal can be done, but it will be difficult with the current leadership. I cannot imagine a situation in which the Israelis will do a deal with Arafat, because they do not believe that he genuinely

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wants peace. We must face that difficult reality. Ehud Barak did as much as anyone to try to take on the legacy of Rabin and to come up with a proper peace deal. He was prepared to try hard to find a way to offer a deal on Jerusalem, settlements and refugees. As Bill Clinton said, he perhaps gave more than the Palestinians had expected. However, if one talks to Barak about Yasser Arafat, it becomes quite clear that if Barak would never do a deal with Arafat again, no one to the right of him in Israeli politics would. We must face that.

In that context, it is worth saying that there is hope. During the past few months, prominent Palestinians have publicly stated the futility of suicide bombings and have said that the armed struggle has reduced the amount of land under Palestinian control and has led to an appalling loss of lives on the Palestinian side as much as on the Israeli side.

Mr. Steen : We are all very interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I wonder whether he could help us on one point—perhaps his memory is better than mine. I recall from the not-too-distant past that President Arafat agreed to a democratic process through which there would be elections, a recognised hierarchy and a democracy. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that was the case and that it is the way that the Palestinians should go? That would give a broader base from which negotiations could continue.

James Purnell : I quite agree. Reform of the Palestinian Authority will be necessary in order to improve conditions for Palestinians on the ground and to give faith to others that it is worth genuinely engaging in the peace process.

The proposal made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon was very interesting. There will have to be a huge amount of international pressure if we are to get people walking down the road to peace. It may be that the hon. Gentleman's approach can get the parties out of their current logjam.

Two preconditions are necessary. First, there will have to be faith on the Israeli side that their security will be guaranteed. They will not agree to the Taba deal without a real belief that it will bring security. Without that security, the current terrorism could continue and the Israelis could be left with no cards to play to try to reduce it.

The second precondition would be recognition by the Arab states of the legitimacy of the state of Israel. The problem is not only Fatah; it is Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In many ways, at the root of the campaigns of those organisations is not so much the Palestinian issue but the issue of the recognition of the state of Israel. That recognition is required from Iran and Syria in particular.

What more can we do? We in the west must keep pressure on the Israeli Government to go down the path of peace. We must continue to provide aid to the Palestinians to try to relieve the conditions on the ground. The Chief Rabbi has suggested that, in return, there should be conditions that require a much broader education for people in the Palestinian Authority, to ensure that hate is not spread through schools and that children grow up with a recognition of Israel and of their Jewish neighbours. We have to keep working with the Arab nations.

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In that context, I want to make one quick final remark. I understand why we are engaging with Assad and why he is visiting. It is important that we bring Arab nations into the family of nations. In return, however, we have to make it clear that that cannot happen without a significant shift on the sponsoring of terrorism. The headquarters of all of the organisations that I mentioned are in Damascus. I am sure that the Prime Minister will raise such issues with Assad next week. Without an end to terror—terror from within not only the Palestinian Authority but the generality of Israel's neighbours—there can be no peace in that troubled area.

11.37 am

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) on securing this debate and on the way in which he has approached it. I also congratulate all speakers on the way in which they have spoken.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon made some interesting points. The story of what happened at Taba depends on whom one speaks to—a number of different accounts exist of what happened—but from the accounts that I have heard, I recognise some of what the hon. Gentleman said. I want to pick him up on one point—although I am sure that it was no more than a slip of the tongue. He wondered what might have influenced some of President Arafat's attitudes at that time. He said that he thought President Arafat might not have wanted to be the one who recognised Israel. However, President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority recognised Israel not only recently but several years ago. There is no doubt about the PA's recognition of Israel within the pre-1967 borders.

The Taba negotiations were clearly not completed. Neither side walked away from them; as the hon. Gentleman said, they simply ran out of time. We should acknowledge that. All too often in debates on what has happened during the peace process, Taba is almost jumped over. It is suggested that everything has flowed from the impression that a wonderful deal had been on offer at Camp David a few months previously, but the Palestinians had rejected it. I do not want to go into everything that happened at Camp David; suffice it to say that it was not as simple as has been suggested. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight what happened at Taba.

I chair the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group. On behalf of that group, I condemn violence against civilians from whichever side it comes—whether that be the case of the 70-year-old who died last week in Gaza when his house was demolished by soldiers when he was still inside it; or the appalling incident when children and their mother were gunned down in a kibbutz; or the suicide bomb in Jerusalem a few weeks ago that killed 11 and injured 40; or the 383 Palestinian children who have died since September 2000. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) was right to say that 700 Israelis had died in the past two years and to ask how we would feel if the equivalent number of British people—about 7,000—had died since September 2000. It is important that we bear that in mind. In the same way, however, we

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should ask how we would feel if, like the Palestinians, the equivalent of more than 20,000 Britons had died in the same period.

It does not weaken in any way our condemnation or horror of the violence to recognise the need to move beyond it and look for its causes and solutions. We should remind ourselves that, although Israel has an absolute right to exist and to demand recognition without preconditions, Palestinian concerns are also important. We must avoid any suggestion that Israel has non-negotiable, absolute rights, whereas the Palestinians' rights are somehow discretionary. Uri Avnery, a well-known Israeli who has been active on the issue for many years and has a great deal of respect, put it well recently when he said:

I am sure that Israelis, rightly, would not accept their rights being dependent on special behaviour, but that should apply equally to the Palestinians. We must recognise that when we see the reality of the occupation.

Hon. Members may have read the powerful article in The Observer last Sunday, which examined the situation in the Itamar settlement overlooking Nablus. Settlers there have been firing down on Palestinians whose only crime is to try to harvest the crop from the olive groves. I was chilled to read the words of an 85-year-old farmer quoted in the article, who said that the

That was no idle threat: two people from that olive grove have died in recent weeks.

Such incidents are as morally unacceptable as suicide bombings. They are also illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which relates to the treatment of civilians. The occupation and the settlements are illegal. When we look for ways in which the United Nations can adopt a more pro-active and assertive role, we must establish that international law is not negotiable or discretionary in the middle east. It is as sacrosanct there as anywhere else. I say that not only because it is right, but because we must try to understand the causes of the conflict and win the support and confidence of both sides.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is right to say that we need to understand the fear that grips so many Israelis. However, we must also understand the feeling of double standards that pervades in so many parts of the Arab world when we seem to treat their citizens' rights as different from the rights of Israelis.

Many hon. Members have questioned the way in which Sharon approaches issues, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). He is right to do that. It is sometimes projected that Israeli violence is a response to terrorism. If one examines the sequence of events, however, that is not borne out. In December last year, there was a Palestinian Authority ceasefire that lasted for 28 days. Not a single Israeli was killed during that time. All Palestinian factions agreed to it. However, during that time, Israel demolished the homes of 614 Palestinians in Rafah in Gaza, 19 Palestinian civilians were killed and Raed Al-Karmi, a Palestinian activist, was assassinated. I am not trying to

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suggest a tit-for-tat argument, but unless we understand the sequences, winning the confidence of the Palestinians will be much more difficult.

We need to ask what Sharon's agenda is, because his argument seems to involve a catch-22 situation. If, as a result of his constant military incursions, Palestinian violence stops, it is said that that shows that his policy works and why there must be an iron fist to put the people down. If Palestinian violence does not stop, the response comes, "Well, that shows why we've got to do these things." That is an absolute catch-22.

Last week, Sharon said:

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said rightly that the first part of that gives the men of violence a veto on peace, so it makes no sense in that case. However, there is also a question of Palestinian political reform, which the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) rightly mentioned. The Palestinians want elections. I visited the area in May and there was a constant demand for elections from members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Palestinians in the street and the Palestinian Authority. Chairman Arafat wants elections. However, it is a bit difficult to organise and hold elections while closures stop people getting from one town to another and curfews stop people leaving their homes for most of the day. The international community could say that if there is a consensus that such elections should be held, not only Israel should have elections in the next couple of months because Palestinians should also have free and fair elections that are held in the presence of international observers. The weight of the occupation should be lifted to allow such elections to be held.

On present form, Sharon and the Sharon Government have not shown any interest in allowing such things to happen. Sharon said in a recent speech that a Palestinian state could perhaps make up about 40 per cent. of the west bank and Gaza. He said that the way to get from one Palestinian area to another could be by using bridges or tunnels. If we honestly expect to win the confidence of Palestinians, we must accept that they are people. They are not moles or rabbits. They cannot go from one place to another by using a series of tunnels. They must have a viable state.

There are alternatives. I am encouraged by the new leader of the Israeli Labour party and by what he has said. He seems seriously to want peace talks, which is great. He seems to recognise the Palestinians' right to choose their representatives. We should encourage that and encourage similar voices in Israel, just as we must encourage the voices of peace among the Palestinians.

We should also pay tribute to the small number of Israelis who, often in difficult circumstances, say that they are no longer prepared to go along with the occupation. A growing number of conscripts and reservists, who often have distinguished military records, are refusing to serve in the occupied territories. They are not pacifists, by and large. They say that they are prepared to serve in an Israeli defence force but they are not prepared to serve in an Israeli occupation force. That shows great bravery and courage and it focuses

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attention where it should be. Ending the occupation is not an add-on or luxury in addition to finding a settlement but it is absolutely central to that. We should pay tribute to the refuseniks and, as parliamentarians, encourage them as much as possible.

The conflict in the middle east has bedevilled not only that part of the world, but the whole world for so many years. It has already claimed the lives of far too many innocent people. It is right that all of us who participate in these debates condemn violence from whatever source it comes. If we are to move from condemnation to change, which is ultimately the important thing, the international community needs to be more assertive. I agree with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon that that requires a new initiative from the United Nations and I welcome the fact that our Government are taking more of a leading role. If the initiatives are to work, they must be not only meant as even-handed, but seen as even-handed, which requires addressing the issue of double standards that is felt so keenly among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world as a whole.

11.49 am

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): I was very pleased that during our conference in September and October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in connection with his statements on Iraq, promised that the middle east peace process would move toward final status negotiations before the end of this year. More recently, on 25 November, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made some positive suggestions, which indicated that that would happen. I wish my hon. Friend the Minister to bring us up to date on that; this is an ideal opportunity for us to be told how far we have got in putting the middle east peace negotiations back on track.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) on securing the debate. It is timely, as the end of the year is approaching fast. I also welcome his suggestion. I have always been told that the Americans must help if we are to get peace in the middle east. There is some truth in that, but I have never believed that the Americans alone, with all their vested interests in that region, would proceed to final status negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman obviously believes that the key to unlocking this serious problem lies with the United Nations. I have always believed that; in the past, I have called for UN peacekeepers to try to keep the two sides in the middle east apart. Therefore, I strongly welcome the proposal, and I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister's response to it.

Dr. Julian Lewis : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to the possible future role of UN peacekeepers. I was minded to inquire about that when my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made his opening remarks. We have been in that position before: permanent peacekeepers were in place in the run-up to the 1967 war. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in any settlement imposed by the UN, those peacekeepers should be there permanently, and that they should be removable only by the UN, rather than at the behest of one or other side of the dispute, as has so disastrously happened in the past?

Dr. Iddon : I would certainly welcome them being there, although I would hope that they would not have

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to stay there permanently. It is obvious that it will take several decades to achieve peace in the region; that will be a long-term process.

My constituency has a large Muslim population, and my Muslim constituents are pressing me on this issue more than on any other. I attend many meetings with them, and they keep asking me about the chances of success with peace negotiations in the region. Recently, I have had to tell them that I think that at present we are further away than ever before from achieving peace in the middle east; that is my opinion, but I hope that I am wrong.

Ariel Sharon does not appear to want to make peace in the region. An article in The Guardian a few days ago stated that Sharon has openly admitted that he does not want a two-state settlement. I am unsure whether there is any truth in that; perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us whether it is true. There cannot be peace in the region unless there is a two-state settlement. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) referred to Ariel Sharon's history. With Sharon in place, there can be no peace in the region. We will have to see what happens in future elections in Israel.

I am a scientist, so I examine the evidence. I have no axe to grind on either side of this argument. I used to be very supportive of the Israelis—I certainly was during the six-day war, when they were under attack from the Arabs. Now, my sympathies are the complete opposite: I strongly support the Palestinians because they are among the most oppressed people in the world.

As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, the repercussions of the conflict in the middle east ripple out to wherever there are Muslim populations in the world. Matters such as the war on terrorism also go back to the central debate on the middle east.

When the Berlin wall was built, people throughout the world vigorously protested. I am old enough to remember it being built, and I remember the huge protests that came from almost every country. What amazes me is that a Berlin wall is being built from the north to the south of the region. Much of it has already been built, and I am told that it is higher than the Berlin wall, although I have not yet seen it. The wall is being built illegally 10 km beyond the green line, within Palestinian territory, and it is pinching 10 per cent. of that territory. It completely divides the west bank from the state of Israel. Have the Government made any protest about the building of that wall?

When I visit my constituency, it is apparent that hardly any of my constituents know anything about the building of the wall. It is one of the most devastating things that any country has ever done, but where are the protests? Where is the media coverage? I have not seen it. The wall has been mentioned in the quality press, but certainly not in the tabloids. Our country, and indeed every other country, should protest about the building of the wall by the Israelis just as much as they did when the Berlin wall was built.

James Purnell : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is tragic that the wall is being built. I saw it last week. I understand completely how the matter might seem from our perspective in Britain. However, does my hon. Friend understand that, from the perspective of the Israelis, the building of the wall is a dovish move, and

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one that recognises the two states? The building is being done to allow people to withdraw from the territories and to reduce what my hon. Friend would think of as the occupation. He may not like the details of the scheme—there are important arguments about its details—but does he understand that the matter is thought of very differently in Israel?

Dr. Iddon : Of course I recognise that the matter is seen differently in Israel, but if the wall is being built in recognition of the two states, why is it being built 10 km—6 miles—beyond the green line? Why, at the very least, did the Israelis not build it on the green line?

I am a scientist, as I have said, and I consider the evidence. The evidence shows that the Israelis want totally to control the Palestinians. The Israelis have never had—and will never have, particularly not under leaders such as Ariel Sharon—a thought of a two-state settlement, except when great pressure is applied on them. One has only to consider the bypasses and how Israel has built settlements around Palestinian towns and villages. The wall is the most recent evidence of the intentions of the Israelis. Such behaviour has been going on under successive Governments, whether on the left or the right of the political spectrum in Israel.

The evidence shows that the Israelis have given no sign that they want a two-state settlement. They prevaricated throughout the peace negotiations. As I said, the Americans will not sort out the matter because they have too many vested interests. For that reason, I strongly welcome the proposal involving the United Nations; that is the only way out of the sticky mess that we are in. If we do not act on the proposal, thousands more people will die.

A few weeks ago, I received a booklet called "Who Will Save the Children?", which is produced by a variety of American organisations, and the information that it gives is horrific. It states:

Who will save the children? Perhaps the UN will; I hope so.

Palestinian towns and villages are rapidly becoming settlements within an expanded Israeli state. I hope that we can get the peace negotiations back on track, but we—not just America but the UN—will have to be strong on Israel. If we do not put pressure on Israel to come back to the table to talk seriously, the devastating ripple effect will continue for decades and affect the rest of us throughout the world.

11.59 am

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) not only on initiating the debate, but on the quality of his extremely interesting contribution. I regret that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) cannot be here today. He contributes regularly to such debates and has important points to make. I hope that he will be back in his place soon.

Fundamental truths are repeated constantly in such debates. They need repeating because they are correct. Israel is entitled to live in peace within secure borders

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and free from attack or threat. Palestinians are entitled to justice and to a viable homeland, both administratively and economically. We have set out such a position in UN resolutions that have survived the debates on the subject over many years. They are as true today as they have ever been. If that is the potential light at the end of the tunnel, I can only repeat what was said to me recently at the United Nations. An Israeli said, "We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot see the tunnel." The fact that we seem so distant from achieving such clear objectives is depressing.

Let us be clear in this Chamber that terrorism and the loss of innocent life is something that we must deprecate. It is not justifiable. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) was right to say that Israelis need to be confident that effective measures are in place actively to discourage those who would attack them from within Palestine. Let us understand that the reaction of those who undertake suicide bombings or the like is born of the desperation and the circumstances in which they find themselves, which is based on occupation, a regime of coercion and economic strangulation, and the illegal settlements to which reference has been made.

We must remember that the second intifada started with the determined trip of Sharon to Temple Mount. He knew what the consequences of that would be and he used it for political purposes. He adopted such a position, and I believe that he can end it, too. It is an historical perversity that right-wing leaders are often in a better position to achieve settlement than those who take a more centralist position because such people can take their population with them. Let us hope that Sharon takes that view.

The outside world is aware of the critical importance of the position in the middle east and, as has already been said, the ripple effect covers a much wider area. During my recent trip to the United Nations, it was interesting to talk to members of the Security Council, ambassadors and permanent representatives from wider circles. Other than those representing Arab states, they were not willing to countenance an express linkage between the arguments on Iraq and those on the middle east. Nevertheless, we all understood that that linkage was made on the streets throughout the Islamic world and that it was necessary to be seen not to have double standards.

There is an implicit requirement to meet the impatience of many who do not see the international community acting with the same resolution in the middle east that it is now willing to show in respect of Iraq. Some blame the way in which the Palestinians have played their hand in the United Nations. There is some substance to that belief; the way in which they have used international organisations has not been clever. However, we need to understand that the middle east colours the responses of those whose help we need in the war against terrorism and to ensure that appropriate pressure is applied to Iraq. We must also understand that any conflict in Iraq would have devastating consequences on the position in the middle east, and could take us to a point of no return.

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Where does the international community stand in all this? I reject the view that we should not deal with President Arafat. He is the elected head of the Palestinians and must be party to whatever emerges. We should put pressure on the Palestinians to bring every pressure to bear in their communities to persuade the factions that want to pursue the conflict through terrorist action that there are better ways of doing so. I appreciate that that is difficult when there is a complete breakdown of civil or peacekeeping administration in areas under Palestinian Authority control. None the less, that pressure needs to be maintained.

Our principal course of action must be a renewed firmness in dealing with the Government of Israel. Several factors must be considered. The settlements are a running sore and are illegal, as is the continuing demolition of Palestinian homes. Even today, a court is examining the proposed further demolition of Palestinian homes in order to widen the road to an illegal Israeli settlement. The Israeli Government must understand that that is unacceptable. We must make it clear that aspects of the suppression in Palestine are incompatible with Israel's status as a democratic nation that subscribes to the same human rights to which we in the western world subscribe.

There is curfew, collective punishment and the reported refusal to allow Arafat into Bethlehem on the ground that he has damaged the position of the Christians in Palestine. I must say that he has not damaged their position nearly as much as the Israeli tanks have done. There is the shooting of innocent individuals, including members of the international community: I refer to the shooting of Iain Hook on 22 November. Only yesterday in Gaza, Israeli security forces attacked a bus belonging to the United Nations Works and Relief Agency. All these factors create the circumstances in which terrorism thrives. That must be brought home to the Israeli Government, as must the fact that the western world cannot launch a consequential attack on those whom the Israelis identify as their enemies. Mr. Sharon must be disabused of the notion of a crusade. There will be no such crusade against Iraq, Iran or whoever is next on the list.

We must take into account our economic and military links with the nations in the area and reconsider the matter. Israel and the European Union are prime trading partners, and we are still supplying arms, directly or indirectly, to the area. I understand that the Israeli elections are coming up, so these are difficult issues. I understand that the rightward drift poses a difficulty, even in the Likud party, despite the rejection of Netanyahu. The quartet—the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia—must act effectively. We are told that they are doing so, and the Minister may tell us whether the Foreign Secretary was right when, on 25 November, he talked about positive developments and determined moves. However, the process must break cover so that the whole world can see that progress is being made.

I commend the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon that the United Nations Security Council should take a lead. I am a great believer in the primacy of the Security Council and the crucial role that it has to play. I also believe that the United States must be on board for the Security Council to be effective. We also need to persuade the Syrians and the other Arab

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league nations of the good sense of what is proposed. I look forward the Minister's reply, but whatever happens needs demonstrably to happen now if the Arab world is to have any confidence that the international community is even handed.

12.10 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): This has been one of the most refreshing debates that I have attended on this topic. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) for initiating the debate and for the enlightened way in which he launched it this morning. Any student who wants to learn about the subject should be sent a copy of my hon. Friend's speech, which contained a masterly synopsis of the facts. It is all there in a nutshell. At a time of stand-off in the region, his is a thoughtful, balanced and well-intentioned initiative that deserves to be taken seriously. We have had Camp David, Taba, Tenet, Mitchell, Crown Prince Abdullah and now Maples. What my hon. Friend proposes must be taken as a serious possible course of action. He said that most Israelis will vote for Sharon, but for one peace. The phrase that best describes that apparent contradiction is that they are short-term hawks but long-term doves. A lot of hope rests on a dissection of the psychology behind that opinion.

The security situation is deteriorating. It is something that we have all studied and I witnessed it for myself in May on the day that I walked through the rubble of Jenin. When I returned to Tel Aviv, I heard an explosion in a snooker hall just down the coast—the result of a suicide bomber. It is that juxtaposition of violence that bedevils the issue from day to day.

This is a crucial time because while the world community is looking at Iraq and our gaze is averted, things may go even more wrong. We do not want that to happen. What drives us all demented with exasperation is exactly as my hon. Friend explained: so many of the crucial ingredients for peace are largely in place; they are scattered like a jigsaw on a table, waiting to be put together.

I shall be brief, to allow the Minister to give what I know will be a considered response to my hon. Friend's speech. As he said, the ingredients are there: borders, the right of return, settlements and Jerusalem, the four main components of a potential peace. However, there are no willing interlocutors and therefore there seems to be no progress. As hon. Members have said this morning, there is no military solution.

A solution has been proposed by my hon. Friend. Central to his plan is the concept of imposition by the United Nations under chapter VII. It genuinely reflects our frustration that if only someone could bang heads together something could be done, because the ingredients are there. However, it throws up the issue of whether people can be led into an agreement willingly or whether they need to be pushed. That is at the heart of the concept behind my hon. Friend's proposal.

A parallel can perhaps be drawn with Northern Ireland, where there was similar, seemingly hopeless, sectarian violence. That is often mentioned by the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who was a Minister with responsibility for security in Northern Ireland. He

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saw that the best step forward was to establish confidence-building measures, which were part of the Mitchell proposals, from a lower level, by grandmother's footsteps, to the point where the main participants in the political process could act on the foundation of mutual trust. The question mark over my hon. Friend's proposal is whether that ingredient can emerge from his process, whether his proposal can work without it and whether some kind of compulsion can lead to the solution that he proposes. But trust cannot be imposed; it has to emerge by degrees over time.

I could say so much but there is no point in rehearsing the attitudes that the two sides face. Suffice it to say that we on the Opposition Front Bench fervently defend Israel's right to exist, to be recognised by all and to live in complete security from terror and destabilising pressure. We also defend the Palestinian people's right to live in a climate of hope in a state of their own.

We must all put ourselves into the mind of each side in this continuing conflict. The Israelis feel insecure and vulnerable: suicide bombers afflict them every day, and they have neighbours who they think want to do away with them altogether. They feel that the Arabs want to push them westwards into the sea. Palestinians, however, feel humiliated, dispossessed, stateless and subjugated. They feel that the Israelis want to push them eastwards across the river into Jordan.

Anyone can take up the cudgels for one side against the other, but it is no good adopting a polarised stance. One does not have to be anti-Arab to be pro-Israeli, or anti-Israeli to be pro-Arab. Arab-hating attitudes are potentially as iniquitous as anti-Semitic ones. To be pro-peace, one must be pro-both sides. Any reasonable assessment of this complicated issue realises that there is cause and fault on both sides. We must totally condemn suicide bombings on any target against the Israelis. We must also condemn the building of illegal settlements by the Israelis on land that is outside the legitimate borders of their own country. Beyond that, however, playing the blame game does not get us very far. Any of us can construct a tit-for-tat catalogue of claims and counter-claims, and accusations and counter-accusations, but such an antiphony of name-calling gets us nowhere.

We need a de-escalation of violence and the gradual, steady growth of trust, perhaps starting, as I suggested, at the lower level and rising to the point at which two leaders with a genuine desire for peace can converse, negotiate and take their people willingly to a conclusive agreement.

I think that all hon. Members present agree that a two-state solution is the only answer for peace. However, the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and others asked a question relating to the crucial role of the Americans. I think that both parties can walk the path to peace only if the Americans persistently and consistently take an interest in, and pay attention to, the middle east peace process. If they are in it for a few months and out for a few months, the whole process will falter, as we have seen.

Whatever the merits of the President's speech in June, things have stagnated ever since—the process has gone quiet. However much one might wish the United Nations to get involved, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon suggests, without consistent attention from the Americans, that will not happen, if

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only because they will not necessarily do what is needed in the UN for the UN to do what it needs to do. Essentially, this is the dilemma that my hon. Friend puts so well: to tread the path to peace, should it be the UN, the US, or both? I harbour some doubts about imposition by the UN. I do not think that that would work without the United States, but it is a serious proposal that needs to be seriously entertained.

For any settlement to last, there will be no substitute for genuine confidence-building measures and the building of trust. If the participants feel that they have been forced and they are not, within themselves and their people, willing in the agreement that they are asked to meet, it is unlikely to last. In the absence of US attention, and willingness within the two parties that have to sign up to peace, the UN solution will get us only so far. That said, at last and at least there is an initiative in the climate of misery that we otherwise face. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his thoughtful and reasonable contribution.

12.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien) : I congratulate my colleague from Warwickshire, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), on initiating the debate. It is on an important issue, about which many hon. Members feel very strongly. They are deeply concerned about the death and destruction that has occurred among the Israelis, Palestinians and others as a result of the conflict in the middle east. Let me take this opportunity to agree with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who mentioned the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a valuable contribution to these debates in the past. We hope to see him here again soon. Indeed, I saw him the other day on television looking robust. I know that he is still active and we wish him well in his struggle to regain his health.

The debate has been serious, and a number of important points have been raised. Before I deal with the proposal made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, I should like to say something about the cycle of violence that has been faced by the Israelis and the Palestinians. The consequences have been tragic. Since the intifada started just two years ago, more than 2,000 Palestinians and nearly 700 Israelis have lost their lives. Everyone in the region suffers from the continuing violence and the absence of a final settlement. UK nationals have suffered too. Most recently, Iain Hook, the UN Relief and Works Agency employee, was killed during an Israeli incursion into Jenin on 22 November. I offer my deepest condolences to Iain Hook's family at this difficult time. We will hold the Israelis to their commitment to carry out a full investigation into what happened.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) asked whether we had raised our concerns. We have done so at the highest level. I spoke to the Israeli ambassador last week, and I am going to meet him again this afternoon to talk about this and other matters. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to

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the Israeli Foreign Secretary and we are awaiting a written report of the Israel Defence Forces inquiry, which we will study in due course.

A negotiated settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is long overdue. The same goes for Israel and her other neighbours. We have consistently sought to reach a just settlement based on UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and now 1435. As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, the outlines of such a settlement are clear: a viable state for the Palestinians and security for Israel within recognised borders. Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to enjoy security from attack and the freedom to run their own lives.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon proposes that the UN Security Council pass a resolution under chapter VII imposing a solution along the lines discussed by the Israelis and Palestinians at Taba in January 2001. There has been much speculation about the detail of those negotiations and about earlier talks at Camp David. The negotiators themselves said that they got closer to a settlement at Taba than ever before. Unfortunately, their efforts fell short of a permanent status settlement, which all the parties said they sought. The hon. Gentleman's proposal is very interesting. It deserves to be taken seriously. My view is that it is not a flier now. In the longer term, it is possibly a serious issue that we will have to consider in a wider context. It is not something that we can go forward with at this time. There are a number of reasons for that.

Although it is possible for all of us to sketch the outlines of a settlement in the middle east, it is in the detail of a settlement that the difficulties arise. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who was cautious about top-down solutions. He referred to the need for confidence-building measures between the parties. He also said that the impetus for agreement had to come from within the parties involved in the dispute. All that is true. I am also a little bit wary given the history of chapter VII, which we are currently dealing with in relation to Iraq, Liberia and Libya. Should we place Israel in the same category? If my memory serves me correctly, it would be the first democracy to have a chapter VII resolution imposed on it. Such a resolution is enforceable by sanctions or military action, so we should be cautious before we take resolutions down that route. Chapter VI resolutions have been the chosen vehicles for the UN's resolutions on the middle east, and I believe that that remains the right approach at present. It remains to be seen whether chapter VII resolutions will be appropriate in future.

Mr. Maples : The problem with chapter VI is that, if we want to impose a solution, we must have chapter VII. If the international community decided to go down my chosen route, it would have to invoke chapter VII.

Mr. O'Brien : I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but thus far we have seen no clear agreement on crucial points at Taba, and we cannot impose a settlement on which the parties are not agreed. Extrapolating something from Taba that really is not there would be counter-productive. For a start, the Israelis and Palestinians are not even agreed on what was discussed at Taba, let alone what was finally agreed. Similarly,

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disagreement remains between the parties about Mr. Moratinos's role in the process. Taba saw no agreement on land with no map defining the boundaries, no agreement on the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif, and no resolution on the right of return—a red line for both Israelis and Palestinians. At this point, no easy way of finding a resolution to the red line issues underlined by both sides is apparent. Israel wanted a demilitarised Palestinian state, but the Palestinians were unprepared to accept it. A series of difficult issues were not resolved at Taba, so using Taba as a template for the UN to impose a solution would not be the best way of making progress.

It remains right to view Taba and Camp David as starting points on which further negotiations can be built. As the Foreign Secretary said, they provide a broad framework for handling some of the issues that still divide the parties—settlements in Jerusalem, for example, must figure in final status negotiations. A solution cannot be imposed on the parties through a UN resolution under chapter VII and the parties themselves cannot reach a settlement: it requires vigorous intervention by neighbours and the wider international community, including the UN.

The goal of our current efforts is the urgent resumption of negotiations and the Quartet, the EU, the UN and Russia will play the key roles in achieving it. We shall support them whenever we can. The Quartet is currently drawing up a road map aimed at achieving a final settlement within three years. It will be comprehensive and will include the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. It will address the political, economic, humanitarian, institutional and security dimensions, while spelling out reciprocal steps by the parties in each phase.

Progress will be based on the parties' performance in key areas, including Palestinian security reform and Israeli withdrawal to pre-intifada positions by mid-2003 as the security position improves. Performance will be monitored and assessed by the Quartet. The parties must do everything in their power to reduce violence, build confidence and resume negotiations. They must implement the steps set out in the road map. That is the basis on which we hope to take these issues to a conclusion. We must ensure an end to the suicide bombing, which is stopping the achievement of a Palestinian state, and the Israelis must withdraw from Palestinian land as part of an overall peace settlement. The objective is to move negotiations forward and to ensure that we achieve peace and a final resolution of these disputes. The Palestinian people and the Israeli people deserve peace and the international community should work with them to achieve that.

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